Is Hands Off Data Best for Districts
By the Editorial Team at (ET) Magazine
This is something school districts have talked about for years. They have dreamed about it. They have danced around it. They have spent billions to warehouse it. They have pulled their hair our worrying about it. They have worked their teachers to tears, to exhaustion, and often to quitting to try to organize and control it. They have stockpiled untold quantities of it. They can’t live with it, and they certainly can’t live without it. They can’t get a moment’s piece because of it. And if there was a company that could simply handle it for them, then that company would be opening a new world for them.
And in the world of Good News/Bad News, superintendents have been treated to some very good news in this arena. Many of them have discovered the world of Data-as-a-Service and have engaged an outside company to handle their data.
But what does Data-as-a-Service (D-a-a-S) actually mean? And precisely what does an outside company handle? One of the companies that is leading the education industry in D-a-a-S is Abre.io, an Ohio company founded by educators. According to Co-founder Zach Vander Veen, “Districts have data. But they don’t know what to do with it. Or what it means. And simply providing a “dashboard” of data doesn’t do it for them. Data-as-a-Service is when Abre sits (literally conferences with) a district to understand what questions and what answers they’re trying to find. It’s a conversation. And by having a conversation, we’re able to produce and create a dashboard that TRULY answers their questions in a way they can understand.”
In the beginning of the relationship, it is necessary to get everyone involved, especially those at the top. Abre likes to work from the very top at first (so things actually get done). That means the C Suite. Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Technology Directors, Chief Academic Officers, virtually the entire executive cadre in the central office. After the commitment is made, Abre then works with the building principals. They are the conduit between the central office and the classroom, and as Vander Veen points out, “They get things done.” Finally, Abre works with teachers, especially at the beginning of the implementation.
For a district to Get its ‘hands’ around the data is much more complicated than simply using a dashboard to string together various siloed data sources. A more modern approach must include:
- Centralization of all your data sources in one place, accessible by all stakeholders
- Visualization of your data in meaningful ways to answer the questions your stakeholders have about student success
- Synthetization of your data to bring together multiple data points from different areas to paint a complete picture of student success
- Data intelligence to determine causation and correlation, as well as make predictions that can help leadership take proactive measures.
There are basically four main reasons why a district chooses to employ D-a-a-S. First, to be able to make informed decisions, especially as those decisions relate to the overall wellbeing of every child. Second, to make understandable decisions that are data informed. Third, to be able to answer all the questions the board is asking. And forth (and this may be the driving reason), to finally be able to get a handle on the biggest headache in the district.
Implied in the above reasons for choosing Data-as-a-Service is the ability to focus district resources where they can have the greatest impact. For perhaps the first time ever, districts will have the necessary, actionable data for making decisions on where and when to focus resources. As we know, even in good years, schools have finite resources. The question is where and how to use them to receive predictable results. D-a-a-S helps them answer that question.To make the equation work, you’ll need a data partner with the ability to access every bit of information (when and how it is needed), delivered to you exactly when you need it (in a highly actionable state) – and also delivered to every member of your team, from assistant superintendents through to district and school level managers, and to the fingertips of every educator precisely when he or she needs it. This is true for the information you know you need, as well as the information you may not realize you need. What we are talking about is a service that can give you command of all available information.
This is where the district needs to really look at the potential data partner. For example, Abre can gather every single data point related to a child’s education. At this point, they are one of the few companies that can do that. After that, it depends on the district as to how they want to use the data to answer what they believe to be the most important questions.
The goal is not to limit your information. You’ll want to determine all the different sources from which to pull data and centralize it. You’ll then triangulate the data to gain genuine insights on your learners. Leveraging these additional sources will allow you to ask deeper questions and identify proactive measures.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons to have an outside firm handle all your district’s data is security. The education industry has become the number one target of data criminals. Locking out, ransoming and/or stealing data from K-12 school systems has become very profitable for the upwardly mobile career cybercriminal.Having a company or organization take care of your district’s data should, by definition, include securing your district’s data. Last year, 56 percent of K-12 schools worldwide reported being hit by a ransomware attack, according to a Sophos study. Almost all the education organizations that were attacked and had their data encrypted got some of the data back, but not all. On average, K-12 education organizations that paid the ransom only got back 61 percent of their encrypted data. The overall cost to clean up the ransomware attacks last year was an earthshaking $1.58M per incident. That’s a lot of money, especially for small districts with only a few schools. And the psychological damage goes much higher, for the reputation of the district and for the individual responsible for clicking on that suspicious link. With an outside company overseeing all your data, security becomes their responsibility, and no longer your headache.
Until recently, Data-as-a-Service for education wasn’t technologically feasible. Now, it is not only feasible, but it may be unwise to do it any other way.
If I were going to sum up the top reason to employ Data-as-a-Service in your district, I would have to say confidence. Confidence to know your data is safe and protected. Confidence to know that every stakeholder in your organization has access to the information they need when they need it. And confidence to know you have the information you need to ensure every learner is getting the best possible education on every level.Most districts are literally drowning in data, but at the same time, their students are dying of thirst. There is far too much data to be able to find and use what you need when you need it. Educators are the heart and soul of the district. Even most management positions, from the school-based principal to the district superintendent, came up through the ranks. It doesn’t make sense for these folks to have to be data experts as well as learning experts.
One additional benefit of a qualified Data-as-a-Service company is the ability to save time and money by eliminating unwanted and unused apps and programs. D-a-a-S helps answer what works and what doesn’t work. They can stop paying for what doesn’t work. For Example, Compton Unified School District uses Abre to help understand usage and correlations among their math programs.
Once all the collected data makes it to your fingertips as well as your educators’ fingertips, then everyone in the learning community can see the whole picture. There will be an actionable view of data for teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, family members and every other stakeholder. This enables real access to necessary information, and the student becomes the center of everything.
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